The adult male body, I've read, is about 60 per cent water. My heart and soul, I reckon, are closer to 100 per cent water.
When I'm on the water, I feel at home.
And water has helped me better understand my home. Wherever that has been.
My vehicle for learning about where I live is a kayak.
In the past, I have paddled down the Hunter River, which connected me with my Newcastle childhood. When I lived in Sydney, I spent the best part of a year kayaking around its iconic harbour.
And from water, words have flowed. I wrote about those journeys in two books, The Hunter, published in 2012, and The Harbour, which was first released in 2017.
Ernest Hemingway once advised to write about what you know. I write to find out about what I don't know. Which means I have a lot to write about. Basically, for me, writing a book is a voyage of discovery, to learn more about a place, about people, and about myself.
At the end of 2016, my family moved from Sydney to Lake Macquarie.
As I'm a Novocastrian, the lake had held a distant presence in my younger life. Later, my wife and I lived and holidayed in the village of Wangi Wangi. So I had some knowledge of the lake.
I knew it was Australia's largest coastal saltwater lake. Or lagoon. I knew it was called Awaba, meaning 'flat, or plain, surface', by the lake's first people. And I knew it was a beautiful place to live, work and play.
But, as I stood on a ridgeline overlooking its southern expanse in late 2016, I decided to get to know the lake better. I would kayak around the lake, tracing its 174 kilometres of shoreline, and paddle up some of the creeks that fed it.
I would talk to people, from boatbuilders and environmentalists to sailors and fishers, about their relationship with the lake. Through their experiences, I would learn more about the lake.
And I would learn by simply being out there, paddling and observing, thinking and reflecting. All of which was probably just a good excuse to spend a lot of time kayaking.
In paddling the lake, I was returning to where kayaking effectively began for me.
I had done some paddling as a teenager. However, for my 40th birthday, I bought a kayak, so I could paddle to Pulbah Island, that beautiful nature reserve rising like a spell out of the water a couple of kilometres south of the peninsula cradling Wangi Wangi.
Coincidentally, the model of my kayak, crafted on the banks of the Williams River, was called a Pulbah Raider. With those words impressed on her hull, not only did my kayak have a ready-made name, she seemed destined to take me to Pulbah.
Only my Pulbah Raider has carried me so much further, to so many other places, through the years.
We've been through a lot together.
And now we were once more on the lake, setting off on another adventure. And I decided I would write about what I learnt and who I met along the way. As for a title, well, it was right there before my eyes: The Lake.
This was an unhurried adventure. One of the gifts of being on the water is that it encourages you to slow down, to go with the flow, and look around. Paddling is an ideal antidote to 21st century living.
On weekends and holidays, I would kayak along the shores, slipping into nooks and crannies, and sliding into the lives of those around the lake. People I met talked about what this waterway meant to them, and they shared their stories.
Daryl Lightfoot, a long-time resident of Coal Point, showed me the site of the entrance to the first mine around the lake, founded in 1840 by the Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld.
This man of God, who set up a mission by the lake, left his mark by not only burrowing into the earth for coal, but also by working with an Indigenous leader, Biraban, to translate into the Awabakal language tracts of the Bible, as well as writing about Aboriginal grammar.
From his home at Marks Point, Ken Wilson, along with partner Kerry Johns, pointed me in the direction of a delectable slice of sand and turquoise water, which I thought they called "Nauru". That seemed a long way to paddle. But, no, it was "Naru", and beauty lay much closer than out in the Pacific; it was a beach just on the other side of Swan Bay.
In the pursuit of knowledge and stories, I sailed with the crew of Squid 4 Woodsy in Lake Macquarie Yacht Club's 90th anniversary race, I yarned with fishers, and I paddled up Wyee Creek to the "sunken forest" with Geoff Bowyer and Tom Cordingley.
Tom has also circumnavigated the lake, only he would have left me in his kayak's wake. He completed the journey in six days.
Sometimes, I hopped out of Pulbah Raider to talk with people about their connection to the lake.
At Swansea, for instance, George and Noelene Boyd shared their vast knowledge of the lake's early shipbuilding industry, including the creations of George's forebears. The name "Boyd" is synonymous with vessels built on the lake's shores.
I talked with those who have worked to make this place healthier, such as former Lake Macquarie and Catchment Coordinator Jeff Jansson, and those who have fought to protect it, such as pop music icon and fiercely proud resident John Paul Young.
During my journey for the book, I spoke with dozens of people from so many walks of life.
They personify the diversity, and the beauty, of the lake. But what binds them, nurtures them, and helps define them, is the lake itself.
They are all people of the lake.
THE journey is over. The Lake has been written. But water continues to carry me into new experiences.
Usually I resist invitations to join rowing crews. On the water, I prefer to look where I'm going, not at where I've been.
But when the members of Lake Macquarie Classic Boat Association recently invited me aboard a beautiful St Ayles skiff they had built, I jumped at the chance and into their vessel.
On a sublime morning, I find myself pushing off from the Rathmines shore with four other men. One is the coxswain, steering the boat; the rest of us are rowing.
The skiff is named Catalina, paying homage to the flying boats once based at Rathmines. Now the Classic Boat Association's members restore and revive maritime history in a couple of the old air base's buildings.
The association has 12 projects on the go, bringing pieces of the lake's past back to life, including a 1960s wooden ski boat from Valentine.
Out on the lake, as we find our rhythm in Catalina, Louis on oar number one comments this is like being a slave on a Roman galley, only without the whips. Although at one point, Mario (coxswain) cracks a verbal whip, telling us we are not coordinated: "We've got four individuals!".
On this morning, Catalina is like a floating men's shed. Yarning and laughter are sprinkled between the strokes. These blokes are out here for the exercise and the camaraderie.
But they are all out here for another reason. To be on the lake.
After all, where else would you want to be?
- The Lake: Exploring a splendid sheet of water is initially available only at author talks, including a series at Lake Macquarie libraries in March. Details: library.lakemac.com.au
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